Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It Takes All Kinds

Online Dating for Middle-Aged Women

Dear Louisa of Damselfly's Delights has asked me to share more of the details surrounding my last, deliberately cryptic post. Those who know me well may have already guessed that more than endless white-on-white stitching was occupying my time. I have a self-imposed, somewhat flexible boundary on how much of my personal life I blog about: I aspire to stay on topic, such as it is; personal details might involve other people whose privacy I respect; the personal can become a bit of a wallow; there is a fine line between being open about personal things and just being a narcissist (something bloggers in general are often accused of.)

However, in the spirit of sharing experience in the hopes that it may be interesting, relevant and/or helpful to others, let me recount some of me recent adventures in the wide world of online dating.

When I returned to Lasqueti, I was determined that there would be no more men in my life. I was too old, too cynical, too battered and bruised. A life of pure, devoted creative production, unsullied by troublesome romance beckoned. A friend came up to to me and said, "Heather, I have your next relationship lined up!" I scoffed, and said I was out of action in that department. She replied that I was the kind of person who would always be in action, which I considered a bit of a cheeky assumption at the time, but it did make me wonder about myself.

Then, a couple of months later, I ran into Wendy at yoga. She was brand new to the island, having just moved in with one of the island's few eligible bachelors. I asked her how they had met, and she somewhat ruefully (but with a big smile) said "Plenty of Fish". Hmmn. I had done online dating in the past, on Craigslist, before it became the unformatted vortex of strange desires it is today. I have always been interested in how we present ourselves to the world, and reading personal ads has long been an amusing diversion for me. How do we condense who we are and what we want into a few pithy sentences? From what I have seen, it is an art form that succeeds in the hands of a very few. Most of us stumble, erring either on the side of "I'll tell you more when we meet in person", or blathering on for paragraphs about one's entire life story.

So, more as an exercise in exploring who I might be, I went to Plenty of Fish, and browsed around. Unlike Craigslist, POF has forms to fill out, and claims to be much more structured (and successful) in finding matches. I concocted a profile, striving to create the most honest, accurate version of myself possible. I also thought deeply about what I wanted in my life, still convinced I would never actually make it public. I eventually posted it, but kept it private, which meant I could look at other people's profiles, but they wouldn't see mine unless I contacted them.

A week or so went by and I saw that while there was a huge contingent of unsuitable men, there were also a few that looked, well, interesting. I decided to make my profile public and see what happened. Almost instantly my inbox was filled with "Likes" and "Want to Meets". Yikes! I sifted through them, discarded most, and began a few tentative email conversations.

Around this time, I found a book at the library called "I Love You, Let's Meet". It is a fascinating, funny book that should be mandatory reading for online daters. Author Virginia Vitzthum reveals the greedy, manipulative business side of the dating sites, and explores the psychological aspects of creating a profile, and why people lie so much about themselves.

I was shocked! People lie? Jeez, how naive I am. Apparently up to 40% of online daters are actually married. Most people lie about their age, height, weight, income...well, almost anything. In a way, online dating sites provide a means for people to imagine a better, more desirable version of themselves. This certainly helped explain why some seemingly charming guys I chatted with suddenly disappeared when I suggested we might meet.

Armed with this knowledge, I narrowed my gaze, but the site was somewhat addictive, always offering potential matches. I quickly decided that I would not respond to anyone whose pictures featured them holding up a great big dead fish (these guys seemed to take the name of the site literally), sitting on their big ugly Harley (wannabe bikers don't do it for me), snapping their own photo in the bathroom mirror (jeez, don't you even have a friend to take your picture?), or posing with their arm around their mother ('nuff said). I also used the ability to spell as a filter - if they couldn't spell, they were out, no matter how promising otherwise. I ruled out the guy who claimed to converse with trees and plants, as well as the guy who said he liked to watch UFO's hover over Nanaimo. The post-apocalyptic pan-denominational Christian was a non-starter. I learned that some men used a drift net approach to dating, contacting every woman within a 100 mile radius, while others were fly fishers, casting their line with thoughtfulness and skill.

I eventually had an actual in-person date. The guy who had seemed so sweet on my computer screen spent the whole time staring at my boobs. I didn't see him again. Later, I met another man, whom I initially said I wouldn't meet because he was so far out of my carefully refined specifications, and he turned out to be quite cool and interesting - hitting the mark in many ways. But he then surprised me by saying he wanted to get back together with his ex, while keeping me on the side. Uh, NO!

Now, I must confess to my own deception. After reading that "I Love You, Let's Meet" book, I decided to see what it felt like posting a profile of myself that wasn't scrupulously honest. Being me, I couldn't really go wild with an alternate reality, but I did give myself a different name and different interests, made myself a little younger, and said I lived in a completely different part of the province. Amazingly, I still got lots of responses. One of them was from an impossibly good-looking (ie. Brad Pitt or Calvin Klein underwear model) guy. I started a flirtation with him that quickly became rather steamy. I was surprised by how much fun it was to have a saucy conversation with a complete stranger, especially one that I assumed looked nothing like his pictures. This went on for a few days, until I speculated he might actually be a POF employee, working out of his parent's basement in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, just buttering me up so I would pay for an upgrade on my account. I didn't hear another word from him. Go figure!

Just as that virtual liaison ended, I was idly browsing through my suggested "Matches" when one face leapt out from the rest. It was like his picture was surrounded by a bright light. He glowed. I clicked.

His profile was beautifully written, expressing values and experience that mirrored my own. He said he was an artist. I had been doing this POF thing long enough to know that here was a live one. I sent him a message immediately, saying I would like to see his art. If his work was anything remotely passable, I was in. It turned out that his work literally had me on my knees, praising God that such a man was in the world. We exchanged a few brief emails, had a long phone conversation the next day, and met in person a day after that.

And this is the part where words fail me. I start to sound like a giddy adolescent, spouting banal superlatives. Amazing, wonderful, gorgeous, fantastic, brilliant, blissful, astonishing. All that and more. Given my history, I can't tell people about how I feel without them rolling their eyes and saying, "But Heather, you always find wonderful men." How can I convince them it's different this time? But actually, I don't care if no one believes me, if no one else thinks I may have finally found the one.

But I'm posting about it anyway. If my experience inspires others to take a chance, and surprise themselves, I extend my blessings. The world is an amazing, mysterious place, and happiness exists. Seek it out.

8 comments:

  1. Wow! what a fabulous story! Thanks for sharing this Heather. It's just lovely to hear that you've met someone who's so 'fitting'! A good fit is hard to find. I've decided that if love is to come into my life again, it'll just have to find me! I'm not unavailable; just not seeking! May you have happy days! Jan

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  2. Your experiences make me nearly regret that I am happily married... ;-)

    You have an open spirit and mind, so why should you limit that to art? ;-) I wish you all the best!

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  3. hurray for love where ever you find it!!
    loved your account of 'how to find your perfect partner'

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  4. Whew! Mystery solved! What a great story, Heather. I'd cross my fingers for you that this one truly is The One - but that makes it kind of hard to knit. Wishing you all the best!

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  5. congrats! I also applaud your decision to describe this process in so much detail - though I am married I know so many other who have found mates online (or would like to) and would find your words amusing, helpful, supportive, and honest.

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  6. --so happy for you and I'll keep my fingers crossed also! love the "how to" account.

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  7. I met my husband on an internet dating site! In June we celebrate 10 years since our first date by going back to where we first met
    (British Museum)
    Internet dating was far less common then. I started when I saw the profile for a very nice guy I knew slightly at work and thought if he could do it...
    Most of my dates were very nice just no spark, and there were a few 'not with a bargepole'. After the initial date, in effect it's just like any other relationship apart from you know more about them.
    Wishing you all the best in your adventures

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  8. Fabulous story! Are you still dating? I"ve been through my share of online dating adventures. Usually there are way to many lemons and I get discouraged.

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